"Justice was done," says Barak Obama.
Really? Should we agree? Should we cloak or shroud the assassination in justice, in the guise of law? Does the act warrant cover by the big Other of justice?
No. But I may be wrong and I'm not sure. Here's another attempt to think about what's at stake in the assassination of bin Laden.
The mass cheering after the death of bin Laden was obscene. It was a clear indication of the obscene supplement of the law, of an obscene enjoyment of violence and arbitrary power that accompanies law. The language of assassination attempts to highlight this obscene dimension by emphasizing the illegality of the murder of bin Laden.
In contrast, there is a language of justice. This language has tended to be religious and/or pre-modern, barbaric as it grounds itself in revenge.
Similar to this is a language of desert, as if it bin Laden clearly deserved to die and that this desert justifies the US assassination. I think it is possible that someone may deserve punishment and that this desert in no way entitles another to punish him. The desert of one is not the title or the cover or the justification of another. These are separate matters. (For example, if I know that my neighbor murdered her husband, I am not justified in killing her because she deserves to be punished.)
Additionally, there is the new information that there was a second team ready and waiting, a team that would assist in taking bin Laden alive, advising him legally, translating, etc. The fact of this team suggests the lawfulness of the Obama administration's actions. Similarly, the US didn't secretly target bin Laden. It's been known throughout the world for nearly 10 years that the US was seeking to "get bin Laden."
These "additions" suggest the cover of the big Other, the cover of law that lets us sleep easy or justify to ourselves what is done by the obscene, nightly law.
In my view (informed by Zizek), we err when we seek to cover these acts, these perhaps "necessary" acts, in justice--as if we were absolved, as if it were ok. There is no absolution, justification, excuse. The act remains wrong, culpable.
As Paul and I discussed this over dinner, he pointed out that bringing bin Laden to trial would have meant that evidence uncovered via torture would be admitted and that torture and extraordinary rendition would have come out in trial. My response: this is exactly why we cannot absolve, excuse, justify assassination. We cover our own crimes, as if they were not crimes, as if torture would permitted. Again, that bin Laden was wrong, that he directed and executed violent acts that resulted in the death of thousands of Americans does not make murdering him "just" (and the fact that we like it, that it feels good, that it is opportune, are inadequate justifications).
We on the Left are hypocrites if we condemn the Bush administration but accept the acts of the Obama administration.
There can and will be political violence. Some of us (in a very broad sense, perhaps including Bill Clinton and Barak Obama and George W. Bush and Osama bin Laden) will be the executors of this violence.
In the communist legacy, these executors of political violence have been Lenin, Stalin, Mao...there are others. But we err--we all err--in seeking coverage for this violence in the big Other of history, or justice. Acts may be courageous, but this doesn't make them just.
Gandhi's alternative was non-violence. There is a vocal Left that shares this view. I don't. But at the same time, I think that we indulge ourselves in obscene enjoyment when we seek to protect murderous violence, opportune violence, when we try to avoid confronting this enjoyment and instead perversely make ourselved into instruments of a higher law.
The result: murderous violence occurs, but that doesn't make it just or right.